7 killer upgrades to supercharge your PC gaming
PC gaming can be a pricey hobby, which can make tracking down the right gift for the gamers in your life a bit troublesome. Fortunately, gaming gear like headsets and mice offer an oft-overlooked (and relatively inexpensive) way to upgrade a friend's or loved one's gaming setup for the holidays. We’ve looked at a few options in great gaming accessories that will also keep your pocketbook intact.
Both my high-end and my value picks in this category are mechanical keyboards: I made the switch to a mechanical model a year ago and have found it hard to go back. These keyboards are popular with professional gamers, and provide a heightened sense of tactile feedback that make it clear when a key has been pressed. They're also heavier, more expensive, and quite a bit louder than typical models.. To learn more about what makes a mechanical keyboard different, check out our Mechanical Keyboard FAQ and Should You Switch articles.
Razer has a large selection of mechanical keyboards in its BlackWidow line on both ends of the budget spectrum. Its BlackWidow Tournament Edition lops off some of the bells and whistles of its higher-end models (along with the number pad) but provides all the benefits of a mechanical keyboard in a slightly lighter package. The smaller keyboard also comes with a smaller price tag: At $79, it’s one of the cheaper mechanical keyboards on the market.
Gamers with a little more cash to spend can step up to the $139 BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth keyboard. Razer’s high-end mechanical model boasts a full keyboard layout and even adds a few extra keys for keeping pertinent gaming macros within easy reach. It also throws in some extra bells and whistles like backlit keys, USB ports, and audio jacks. I'm not much of a fan of Razer's Synapse software, which offers plenty of customization options but is frustrating to set up and use. We've looked at a number of other brands to help you decide which mechanical keyboard is right for you.
For less than $100 you can find a wide variety of gaming mice with enough features to transform the way your giftee plays. For a basic upgrade, consider Microsoft’s SideWinder X3. While neither new nor flashy, it’s a fine, functional five-button mouse that's ambidextrous, so it can be used by lefties without any trouble. Its best quality is the price tag: While listed at $40, many outlets (including Amazon) are selling it for just $20.
If you’re going to spring for extra features on a mouse, why not go all out? The Logitech G600 MMO mouse comes with 20 separate buttons. It has some awkward positions, but most buttons are within easy reach. You can customize the functionality of those buttons to your heart’s content; it even handles keybinding-intensive games like World of Warcraft well. At $79, the G600 could have been our budget pick--most mice over $100 don’t offer significantly more features than the G600 or Razer’s comparable Naga MMO Mouse.
Sometimes, you just want to kick back with a gamepad. This is especially true if you’re playing a console port or a platformer that doesn't lend itself elegantly to mice and keyboards. Microsoft's Xbox Gamepad for Windows comes with a USB transceiver that lets you use the controller as a PC input device. It will still function as a normal Xbox controller if you also have a console on hand. For just $40, it's an easy choice.
The headset is often underappreciated. Even a midpriced model can change the way you experience your PC games and make communicating with other players a more audible and enjoyable experience.To introduce a friend to the wonders of decent gaming audio, Skullcandy’s new SLYR headset fits the bill nicely. Sure, it lacks some of the features of more expensive gear, but for just $80, it provides great audio as well as compatibility with PCs, Macs, and the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
For the most deserving gamer on your list, you can shell out $300 for the Astro A50. The price tag makes this headset by far the most expensive item on our list, but the A50 is a clear case of getting what you pay for. The audio quality is excellent, and the headset offers volume balance controls and multiple EQ profiles on the dials and switches that sit on either end of the headset. The A50 is deceptively light and incredibly comfortable. It's also wireless—we saw about 8 to 10 hours of playback, and it worked across a considerable range in our tests. A small base station connects the headset to PCs by way of a TOSLink optical cable, though the headset also supports USB ports if your Mac or PC lacks optical inputs. The A50 also works with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, as befitting a headset that costs as much as a console.
Gaming accessories can make just as much of a difference to the PC gamer in your life as a new graphics card, and with prices ranging from the $20 Sidewinder Mouse to the $300 Astro A50 you can find a gaming accessory that’s right for anyone.